Cussler Car Museum

That was the last bullet. Swinging the empty rifle over his shoulder, the hero grabs the girl and runs to the closest car he can find. But it’s not just any car. The two will get away free and clear … in style. The author wouldn’t have it any other way.

Clive Cussler has been recognized for his achievements as a novelist all over the world, his books have been published in more than 40 languages in 100 countries. A household name to everyone who loves action and adventure novels, his story lines have blasted their way into Hollywood and readers’ hearts.

The best-known of Cussler’s books feature his famous hero, the fearless Dirk Pitt. Pitt’s work with the National Underwater and Marine Agency, for all practical purposes a marine treasure-hunting organization, leads him into many adventures against villainous smugglers, terrorists and other unwholesome figures. The reader should never fear for Pitt’s safety, however. Using his trained skills as a graduate of the U.S. Air Force Academy, Pitt always finds a way to bring himself and his loved ones to safety despite the odds.

Many people have heard of Clive Cussler and Dirk Pitt, but most remain unaware of the life led by the man behind the books. The author doesn’t just write about cool getaway cars. He owns them, and he gives the public a chance to see them at the Cussler Museum in Arvada.

Along with all the edge-of-your-seat action, each of the Dirk Pitt novels features a rare car that exists in reality as a part of Cussler’s collection. For fans of Cussler’s books, a visit to the museum represents a chance to get closer to the characters of their favorite stories, most notably the famous Pitt.

Keith Lowden has been the man in charge of the restoration of the museum’s cars for almost as long as Clive Cussler has been collecting.

“People find out about the museum from his website and want to see the cars his heroes drive. It’s almost like seeing Dirk Pitt by getting to see the cars,” Lowden says.

Cars were always an interest of Cussler’s, a former Colorado resident and long-time author. After returning from service in the U.S. Air Force during the Korean War, Cussler moved to Colorado to work in advertising while raising his family. When one of his first novels, Raise the Titanic, put him on the charts as a famous writer, he put the money to good use, beginning his dream of a car collection.

A warehouse in Arvada, now the museum, was bought to hold his growing accumulation of unique vehicles. The museum now displays 70 of Cussler’s more than 100 custom cars at a time and rotates them every year, giving patrons a reason to come back again and again.

Cussler found his first acquisition while driving through the Colorado countryside. He tells the story on the museum’s website: “My wife, Barbara, said, ‘Look! There’s a 1946 Ford Club Coupe like I had in high school.’ The car was sitting in front of a farm with a For Sale sign on it. I paid $400 for it and drove it home, where my son and I restored it in the street. This was the first car of my collection. It still sits among the more exceptional additions that came through the years.”

“Exceptional” is an understatement when describing the cars in the collection. Every vehicle represents hours of research, purchasing and restoration work on the part of Cussler and the crew at the museum. Though some cars were acquired by coincidental discovery on one of the author’s many trips, most have required extensive effort to search out. Over the years he has acquired cars from private owners and auctions all over the world.

“The restoration work happens in house here at the museum,” explains Lowden. “Most of the procedure is done in the complex. I’ve been working with Mr. Cussler 26 years and as he’s given us cars, we’ve done them to his standards, what he likes. He has pretty high standards.”

Though the collection began 30 years ago, the museum was created to make the cars available for public viewing only five years ago.

“We had a lot of requests from people wanting to see the collection,” Lowden says. “Before, only car clubs could schedule appointments to see the cars. We got to thinking about opening the collection to fans and so pursued the idea of the museum.”

The first room of the large warehouse museum is the 50s room. Brightly colored convertibles and cruisers are lined up as if they’re still parked at a drive-in movie. A plaque on a stand in front of each car gives the model, make and year, along with information about the paint job, the custom work and the history of the car.

Cussler collected the cars in this first room after discovering that many limited-make convertibles were made in the 1950s. Each of the cars is one of only a few of its kind still existing in workable condition. Lowden has restored the cars to their original shine and performance, giving the visitor a precious glimpse into the past of car design.

The next room features the remainder of the cars shown at the museum, consisting of extremely rare models from the early 1900s. In addition to the intriguing glimpse the vehicles provide into the history of the automobile industry, many of the cars also hold interest as examples of innovations in engineering and as representations of a society now passing from the memory of all but a few.

Cussler started with a long list of rare and limited-make cars and has ended with a museum of astounding significance to the world of car collecting. He has been invited to show a few cars at the most prestigious car shows in the world, such as his 1936 Duesenberg Limousine Landaulet J 577 at the Pebble Beach Concours. The Duesenberg was celebrated at the show as the most original model still in existence, meaning that very few of the original parts had been replaced during restoration. Another famous show car, the 1928 Isotta Fraschini Tipo 8AS Boattail Speedster, is only one of two such models left in existence.

Even those models uninvited to prestigious shows inspire fascination in collectors and noncollectors alike for various reasons besides their rare nature. The 1957 Cadillac Eldorado, for instance, was the most technologically advanced car of its time. It cost $400 more than a Rolls Royce, a huge sum when one considers that an expensive car cost $7,000 straight from the factory.

The cars’ connections to fame also add to their intrigue. The museum has on display a 1921 Rolls Royce Silver Ghost, the model that the Queen of England requested be manufactured in all silver for her personal use. King Farouk of Egypt actually owned the 1951 Talbot Lago T.26 Grand Sport that sits on the museum floor. The 1925 Minerva Town Car Landaulette, or the “Rolls Royce of Belgium,” was also the model of choice for several European kings and queens.

Even without celebrity to give them mystique, the cars have plenty to offer in and of themselves. The 1957 Chrysler 300C has an innovative design and a stunning look. It was the first car ever to perform at 300 horsepower and has been restored with the original, beautiful and extremely rare green metallic paint. The museum also has a 1906 Stanley Steamer, the steam-powered vehicle that was the predecessor of the gasoline-run car. The steamer could perform at a maximum horsepower, a stunning technological innovation in the days of horse-drawn carriages.

The atmosphere of the museum, beyond that of the cars, has the ability to transport visitors to another time. Old gasoline and other product signs add color and nostalgia to the warehouse. At the end of the first row in the ’50s room, Elvis Presley stands next to a classic Harley Davidson motorcycle. Elvis is, of course, made of cardboard, but the rest of the place gives you the feeling that he might just come alive.

Dirk Pitt cars include the car driven in the book Sahara, which was adapted as a movie a few years back. Though the actual car was much too valuable to risk being damaged during filming, the producers used a model of the car in the movie as the heroes escaped across the African desert.

Other Dirk Pitt cars include those featured in the novels Atlantis Found, Black Wind, Inca Gold, Dragon, Trojan Odyssey, Valhalla Rising, Treasure of Khan and Cyclops.

Even at age 78, Cussler continues to collect cars and influence the world of adventure novels. His most recent books have been written with coauthors to help new writers launch their own careers as novelists. The cars, like the novels, just keep on coming.

Cussler, now an Arizona resident, has handed over management of the Dirk Pitt series to his son, Dirk. The museum has also stayed in the family, run by Cussler’s daughter Teri.

However, Cussler still reigns as the grand master of adventure. And, with the help of the tangible excitement embodied in the cars that fill the Cussler Museum, his legacy is likely to last a long time into the future.

You’ll find the Cussler Museum at 14959 W. 69th Avenue in Arvada. Call 303-431-1388 for information or visit